Counteracting Stereotypes at Play
There are many ways in which we directly or indirectly train kids to conform to gender stereotypes, especially when it comes to playtime. So it's up to us as parents and adults at large to counteract some of these stereotypes when we see them. Whether it's by bringing more neutral toys into the playroom, or thinking critically about the toys we give different genders, our everyday actions can contribute to a more unbiased environment for our children. It may seem like just a harmless bit of innocent fun, but gender biases begin in the playroom. So if you’re buying toys for little ones, make sure you are doing it on their tastes, not your own biases and expectations. If they like cars and trucks and trains, then great—go with it! They should have lots of fun playing with trucks and cars, and no pressure on them to grow up liking what society expects them to like. This can be a difficult concept for adults to understand, let alone children or teens.
So how can we break out of these stereotypes?
Be open to the idea that little girls might like playing with cars, trucks, and dinosaurs, while little boys might want to play with dolls or unicorns. If a little boy wants to do cooking, art and crafts, that's fine too! Encourage kids to be themselves above all else. Support their interests—and they might just surprise you. Likewise, praise them equally no matter if they're into a 'typical' activity for their gender or something more unusual. Play is one of the critical ways that children learn about the world around them. What we play with and who we play with can lead to unconscious biases forming in our minds, so choosing gender neutral toys can help avoid this. It’s important to respect the choices of other families, and to let children choose what they wish to play with. Gender stereotyping doesn't have to start from birth of course and there is much you can do to "undo" it but the more we can avoid it in the beginning the better. There are many brands out there, like Sadora Baby, doing great things with gender neutral toys, take a look at what they have to offer, what you find might surprise you.
We never want to urge parents to put more pressure on kids as they grow. Instead, we’ll encourage you to play, watch them with childlike wonder, and allow what they love to flourish from an early age. Watch them with the same wonderment and cheerful ignorance, the same comfort and understanding that you did when you were a child. Allow their character to grow confident in who they are and how they see themselves in this world. From there, maybe your child will grow up without gender bias in their worldview too.
We should always be questioning where our attitudes and biases stem from, and then try to change them when those things are actually harmful. After all, we want a world and a future where everyone can feel truly safe, accepted, and equal. We don't want anyone to grow up feeling they were put in their role—no matter how small it might seem—because of a harmful attitude that someone else held.